New bus routes start Saturday, kicking off week of free fares

New transit routes
New transit routes City of Wichita

Wichita bus riders will see new routes beginning Saturday – and a new fare system April 4, after a week of free fares.

“This is not a service expansion,” Transit Director Steve Spade said. “But this is reorienting the routes to make them more efficient, more convenient, and to put our resources in areas where we’ve got greater potential to build ridership.”

Some routes with lower ridership were eliminated to focus on corridors with potential for higher ridership.

Bus transfers will be eliminated in an effort to make routes quicker. Riders will be able to buy daily passes on buses. And the cost of monthly passes will drop in an effort to encourage people to ride.

Rides on the buses will be free from this Saturday to April 2.

“If you’ve never ridden a Wichita bus, that’s when to try one out,” said Mayor Jeff Longwell.

New routes

The new routes focus more on major streets and corridors that typically generate more riders. Some areas with less popular routes will lose bus service. The new routes are available at www.wichitatransit.org.

“We’ve straightened out the routes, we’ve gone to a designated stop system that starts to spread out the number of times a bus has to stop, and we’ve sped up the boarding system,” Spade said. “Every route has been touched one way or the other.”

Wichita Transit’s operating budget is about $13.5 million annually. Spade said the department changed the routes in a way that doesn’t cost more money.

“We can’t expand service now but we can improve what we’ve got to be more efficient,” Spade said.

He expects a slight drop in ridership initially with the change in routes. But the hope is that ridership will pick up again in about a year and a half once the new route system seems more routine to people.

More ridership could attract more federal and state grant money to add more bus service down the road, Spade said.

Changes to bus fares

Here are changes in the bus fare system, which were approved by the City Council in December:

▪ Cash fares for a bus ride will remain $1.75.

▪ Transfers will be no longer be available, meaning riders will need a pass or must pay a cash fare every time they board a bus.

▪ Day passes will be $5 and, for the first time, available to buy on the bus for exact change. They were previously available only at the Transit Center downtown. Riders can still purchase them there if they want.

▪ Monthly passes will be $55, down from $90 previously.

▪ Seniors and disabled people can ride for 85 cents.

▪ Children age 5 and under can ride for free.

‘Speeds up the boarding’

Spade said speeding up the bus system was a large reason for ending transfers.

“We’re doing away with transfers because in our public input process, we found from both the public and our drivers that transfers are a major source of confusion and conflict,” Spade said.

“What we’ve done is modified our fare boxes so instead of giving transfers we can now sell day passes.”

Many riders wanted the ability to buy a day pass, which pays for an unlimited number of rides for that day, Spade said. Adding that should help boost ridership, he said.

“It also speeds up the boarding in this system. All they have to do is swipe a card,” Spade said.

“At the end of the day, what was a 30-minute bus ride we’re hoping can be down as low as a 20-minute bus ride for people.”

Spade also said the cheaper monthly pass will offer lower per-ride costs to regular riders.

“It speeds up the system for us, we get the cash upfront for the system, and it makes it easier for the passenger,” he said.

New mobile app

A new mobile app will track bus locations.

“This is a really significant step for us,” Spade said. “We’ve heard from lots of people that say, ‘I need to be able to tell where my bus is.’ 

It’s called myStop Mobile and is available on iPhone and Android cellphones.

Riders can view the system map and search for routes.

“You can click on the bus and it’ll tell you its exact location, and you can judge where it is in relation to your stop,” Spade said.

The app will also help visually impaired riders track their buses, Spade said.

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar